Better childhood nutrition needed, retired military officials say
September 21st, 2010
04:10 PM ET

Better childhood nutrition needed, retired military officials say

Military leaders along with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged Congress to pass child nutrition legislation by September 30.

The Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 would boost the nutritional value of school meals by using more fruits and vegetables and by eliminating junk food, such as the ones found in school vending machines. The Senate version passed in August, and now it’s left to the House of Representatives, which would need to pass its version before the legislation expires September 30. The House is expected to take up the re-authorization before the deadline, since the bill has passed out of committee with bipartisan support.

More than 100 retired generals and admirals signed a letter to Congress describing the child nutrition bill as crucial to reducing childhood obesity and helping national security, by creating a pool of young adults who qualify for military service.

“Obesity is now the leading medical reason why young Americans today are unable to qualify for the armed forces. At least 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to enlist,” their letter read.

The group of retired military leaders, called Mission Readiness issued a report earlier this year, describing how more than a quarter of young adults are unable to meet physical requirements to join the military, creating a potential threat to national security.

Ex-military leaders: Young adults 'too fat to fight'

“Turning the tide of obesity in this country will not be an easy task,” the letter stated.  “Certainly, there is no single action that we as a nation can take to remedy this problem. However, it is clear that one immediate step we must take is to improve the quality and nutritional value of food and beverages served in our schools.”

Advocates say that as much as 40 percent of a child’s daily caloric intake occurs at school, so these foods should be nutritious to produce a healthy generation.

“We believe schools are a critical place to address the obesity issue,” said retired Rear Admiral James A Barnett, Jr. of the U.S. Navy in a news conference Tuesday.  “Millions buy food and snacks at schools everyday.”

The group says improving nutrition in the nation’s schools is a critical step to combat obesity among the youth.  Military leaders made a similar push in 1945, when concerns about poor nutrition in potential recruits resulted in the creation of a national school lunch program.

Vilsack said there needs to be a better job of promoting “vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy, whole grains” and “getting sugar, sodium, fat content out of the meals.  There needs to be a consistent message between what’s in the lunch line and vending machines. This is very important bill and we’re close to getting it done.  We need Congress to act.”

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